England – Mid 1700’s
Tangled in drenched sheets, Isobel awoke. Her dream ended as it always did with her utterly frustrated. Her hand immediately sought the hot divide betwixt her thighs seeking the hardened nub that throbbed with need. She forced her pleasure to its pinnacle while her active mind finished her dream with Logan entering her slick channel and riding her to completion. Replete, yet unfulfilled, she let her mind drift back over the years to whence she had last seen him. Her first love, nay her last love, for she had never loved Alfred. Respected him, yes, submitted to him, mostly… Loved him? No; fond, yes. After all they’d raised a family together.
Misery at how her life had panned out gnawed at her consciousness. She knew if she was to avoid another case of the doldrums she should get up and move about. Throwing the bed covers back, she climbed from her bed and left her chamber, padding quietly downstairs she moved silently through darkened passageways.
Emerging finally in the long gallery, Isobel began her streak through the dim rooms of Herstmonceaux House, veering through window shaped squares of moonlight that scattered across the polished wood floors in bright patches. Her white voluminous nightgown swirled around her bare legs as she danced on. Room to room, passage to passage, in and out of prodigious sized chambers. Dancing and twirling, her bare feet echoed a muted tattoo in the still and dusty air. She covered the entire ground floor of the enormous house with her wild dance.
Halting in the wide drawing room winded, she gripped her side. Panting, she stood bathed in a large patch of moonshine that poured through the set of French doors overlooking the garden. Her hand rested on her diaphragm, her pounding heart thudded furiously beneath her ribs. Exhilarated, she wondered yet again why ladies were not permitted to run, to jump or to swim, for exercise always lifted her spirits.
Tonight the inanity of her existence weighed heavily upon her. Having once been sole mistress of this vast manor, Isobel was reduced to a mere title the Dowager Lady Haffenden, rendered redundant, a shadow of her former self. Not even missed by her grandchildren, who, it seemed, preferred their nanny to her. Isobel felt ignored and wretched. Heated dreams of a romance from long ago tormented her nights more frequently which only added to her sense of entrapment.
She knew full well that her family meant her no slight, or indeed even gave the matter much, if any, thought. It was just the way of things. Her husband was dead, therefore his title became her eldest son’s; the king is dead – long live the king! Her son Charles now held the title of Lord Haffenden and her delightful daughter-in-law, Imogene, was his Lady. She’d become a Dowager over night; considered old, useless and overlooked, like a horse put out to grass. The futility of her past, and now the present, pressed heavily upon her soul.
She stilled as familiar footsteps came her way. Hughes, the butler moved through the hallway completing his final duty, checking the house before he finally retired. Flickering light from his candle passed by the entrance of the withdrawing room without pause. Isobel knew he was aware of his mistress’s habits of old; he’d never tried to restrain or question her about her clandestine nightly exercise.
She waited until his echoing footsteps retreated to another part of the house before she unlatched the French doors. Stepping out into an eerie moonlit scene, she savoured the cool air. Isobel touched the balustrade lightly as she walked down shallow steps, relishing the cold stone beneath her feet. Out onto the lawn where she ran in dizzy circles about the topiary shrubs cut into the bizarre shapes of cockerels, squirrels and even deer.
Leaping beneath the great swath of rhododendrons, she danced like a crazy woman, like a Scottish woman, she reminded herself. The bank of shrubs screened her antics from view of the house. It was the only time, under the cover of nighttime darkness that she allowed her former self to emerge; she danced the way her ancestors had done since time immemorial. Fully acknowledging her past, allowing her memory to run as freely as her limbs, whilst unseen by the world about her.
A young girl married to a handsome Laird. Heather in her hair, love in her heart. Blood handfasted in wedlock to become Isobel Craig, the happiest bride in Scotland; her marriage was confirmed by their priest. How short those golden days of happiness were before she’d been taken hostage by the hated Sassenachs, the English enemy.
In the aftermath of Culloden many highborn Scottish women were held hostage, forcing their men folk to bend their knee to the English crown. Isobel was given as a gifted handmaiden to Queen Charlotte. Later, she had been forced into a political marriage with an Earl, senior to her by ten years, and she was reborn as Lady Isobel Haffenden. The Earl had been kind and she had to admit she’d come to love the old rascal but not in the way she’d loved Logan Craig. That wrenching from the man who ruled her heart and soul had been devastating. The knowledge she was to be forced to wed another was catastrophic; she had almost lost her reason.
Whirling and dipping as her tears cascaded unchecked, her mind was filled with painful memories of that long ago heartbreak and eventual acceptance of her new role. Finally, she’d found a degree of happiness as babies had come along and she’d become a mother, pouring her time and energy into their welfare and upbringing.
Isobel collapsed onto the cool grass where she remained until the chill seeped into her bones and her mind cleared. Rising, she walked back toward the bottom of the steps.
“What’re ye greetin’ fer lass?” Gasping, she spun around. A tall, dark highlander stood before her, his plaid kilt swinging about his knees in the cool breeze.
“Hamish? You frightened the life from me, man,” she scolded in her Scottish tongue. “What the deuce are you doing here?” she asked reverting to English.
“Och, dinna fash yersel’ lass, himself has sent fer ye.”
“Do ye have a death wish coming here decked out in the plaid which you must know is still banned in England?”
“I dinna bend ma knee tae any Sassenach, lass. I thought ye’d ken that well enough.”
She strode over to the giant of a man and hugged him fiercely.
“Gad, but it is good to see you again, Hamish. It has been far too long.” He returned her hug then set her aside.
“Come, we need to make haste, we need tae be gone, lass.”
“I cannot just walk away… This is my home now; these people are my family, my own flesh and blood!”
“Ye’ve more than fulfilled your side of the bargain. The Lord is dead and gone, your debt paid tae the Crown long ago. Ye owe your one true husband your loyalty and obedience. Come, ‘tis been long enough since ye pledged your troth.”
“Nay, I’m not ready. I need more time. I cannot… eek!” she squealed as he hefted her over his shoulder. Carrying her easily, he toted her swiftly across the gardens to his waiting steed.
“I tried tae tell ye, lass, himself has lost all patience. I am here tae take ye back tae where ye belong. I am returning ye tae your rightful husband.” She cried out a protest at his words.
“Wheesht!” he soothed, quieting her. Isobel stilled.
“Ye know ’tis time tae right the wrong the Sassenachs perpetrated.”
Perhaps Hamish was correct and it was time to return to whence she came. A mantel of calmness settled over her. She nodded, acquiescing. He lifted her up astride his horse. Isobel accepted the fact she was finally to return home.